TODAY | September 24, 2010
MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: American hiker Sarah Shourd hoped to meet with President Ahmadinejad while he was here in New York . This a little more than a week after her release from the Iranian prison where she was held for more than a year. Her fiance, Shane Bauer , and friend Josh Fattal are still being held there. Sarah Shourd , good morning to you. And, first of all, we're so glad that you are home.
Ms. SARAH SHOURD (American Hiker Freed From Captivity in Iran): Thank you.
VIEIRA: But I know it's bittersweet for you. After your release, you said that you only felt one-third free. You left a large part of your heart behind. How was Shane and Josh when you said goodbye to them?
Ms. SHOURD: Well, they were very happy for me because they're gracious, generous people. But I'm sure they were feeling something, you know, a disappointment inside that they just wanted to hide from me because it can't be easy for them. We've been -- you know, they've been trying to separate us since the first day in prison and turn us against each other. And now I feel like, you know, we're still being torn apart and it's just an extension of my punishment to be here without them.
VIEIRA: How did they try to turn you against each other?
Ms. SHOURD: You know, it's just -- by putting me in my own cell, giving me very limited time with them. It's mostly that.
VIEIRA: Do you know why you were released and not them? The Iranian government has said it was for humanitarian reasons because of a medical condition that you had. Is that what you were led to believe?
Ms. SHOURD: Well, the judge told me it was humanitarian because I was in solitary confinement, which is a harsher sentence.
VIEIRA: When you were released, the government of Iran said that you all had been charged with espionage and faced also charges of illegal entry. Why would they believe that? Can you set the record straight for us?
Ms. SHOURD: Well, of course, we were hiking behind a tourist spot with hundreds of other Kurdish families in northern Iraq , which is a safe part of Iraq where no American has ever been killed, to my knowledge. It's not a war zone. We were guided by the hotel manager to go to this place. And the border was completely unmarked, so we meant no harm to the Iranian people or the government. We committed no crime , and...
VIEIRA: Did you know you were near the border? Did anybody say to you you were near the border of Iran ?
Ms. SHOURD: No. We had absolutely no idea. There was no indication. The border is unmarked and invisible.
VIEIRA: So what happened? I mean, you're hiking and did some soldiers approach you?
Ms. SHOURD: Yeah, yeah. And then before I knew it, I was thrown -- I was torn apart from Shane and Josh and thrown into a cell. And that's where I've been for the last 14 months. The important thing to remember is that's where Shane and Josh still are. You know, they're in the same size cell that I was in, crammed in for no reason, having committed no crime , and they don't know when they're going to get out, you know? They have to exercise on a space the size of a towel just next to each other. There's very little sunlight, they have very little time out of their cell and no communication with their family. We received letters, but we're not allowed to write letters. And, you know, they've only received one five-minute phone call in this whole period.
VIEIRA: And during -- and during the time of your captivity, one hour a day you could be with them.
Ms. SHOURD: Yeah.
VIEIRA: Tell me about those hours, how you spent those -- that time.
Ms. SHOURD: Oh, well, that was my lifeline. I mean, I just -- my whole day was centered around waiting for that moment because it was my only -- my only human contact, my only time. And, you know, as the hours grew nearer to my time outside I would pace the room wringing my hands, you know, often just like tears streaming down my face and seeing them was my only relief. And they're wonderful people. You know, every time I felt like I was really slipping away, they brought me back. You know, they're the reason -- Shane and Josh are the reason that I'm able to sit here today and advocate for them with all my strength. The only reason I want to be here.
VIEIRA: And I know that you desperately wanted to talk to the Iranian president . You've made efforts -- he is in the United States , I think he's leaving today.
Ms. SHOURD: Mm-hmm.
VIEIRA: Have you made any headway at all?
Ms. SHOURD: We still have hope. Yeah, you know, that could happen today. I don't see any reason why the president wouldn't want to meet with me. You know, I'm sincere in having -- in bearing no grudge towards the Iranian government . I just want to resolve this. I want it to be an opportunity for us to improve relationships between Iran and the United States . I truly believe that's better for everyone involved.
VIEIRA: Have you come to terms with the face that maybe you and Shane and Josh are just pawns in a political game?
Ms. SHOURD: Well, how can you ever some to terms with that, you know. I mean, it's kind of -- you can't accept that kind of twist of fate. But I acknowledge that that's the case because we committed no crime , we're innocent, we didn't mean any harm to anyone, and...
VIEIRA: All right, Sarah Shourd , thank you so much .
Ms. SHOURD: All right.
VIEIRA: And I 'm admiring the ring on your finger, too. You got engaged in January. Shane proposed to you.
Ms. SHOURD: Yeah.
VIEIRA: It's a piece of thread and I think that probably means the world to you right now.
Ms. SHOURD: It does. It does. Shane is still wearing his, so they're with me every second.
VIEIRA: Sarah , thank you.